Hartlepool councillors call police chief panel a ‘waste of time’ and slam tax hike

Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger
Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger

COUNCILLORS have labelled a panel aimed at holding the Police and Crime Commissioner to account as a “waste of time”.

Barry Coppinger is Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Cleveland and has the power to appoint chief constables, call on them to retire or resign and set the police precept and budget.

The aim of the Police and Crime Panel (PCP) – made up of councillors from across the district – is to hold the PCC to account and also contribute to the policing plan.

But Hartlepool councillors say the panel doesn’t have a “great deal of value”.

The comments at full council came after independent councillor Paul Thompson asked the two Hartlepool PCP members, Labour councillors Carl Richardson and Christopher Akers-Belcher what representations they made regarding the police’s 1.997 per cent rise in their council tax precept for the recently-released 2014-15 bills.

Coun Thompson was angry it had risen yet Hartlepool will have 17 less PCSOs.

Coun Richardson said it is the PCC who sets the precept but argued if there wasn’t a rise then the force would be facing even more cuts. Coun Akers-Belcher said he had asked for Mr Coppinger to come and present the changes to Hartlepool Borough Council members, which he did.

But the council leader added: “From my point of view I don’t believe that the police and crime panel has a great deal of value in the decision making process.

“I don’t have a lot of time for the panel.

“We have tried to petition and influence what the Police and Crime Commissioner does.”

Coun Jonathan Brash accused Coun Richardson of only attending two panel meetings, to which the Labour councillor replied: “I have attended.

“The PCP is supposed to make the PCC accountable but it does not work.

“I personally think that the PCP is a waste of time.”

At times the heated debate threatened to boil over and mayor Stephen Akers-Belcher stepped in to warn members saying: “Civilised behaviour is quickly going down the pan.

“There are smirks and point-scoring, and I won’t tolerate it in this chamber when it becomes personal – we are not in a playground.”

Putting Hartlepool First councillor Geoff Lilley asked if members could be given the chance to sit on the PCP.

Mr Coppinger said: “The precept increase is part of a medium-term financial strategy to move Cleveland Police forward and deliver savings and efficiencies.”